Families who travels with young children often bring a stroller or car seat along to the airport, then check it before boarding.
But one Cincinnati family's experience may make you rethink handing that seat or stroller off to a gate agent.
Andrew and Taylor Caudill took their 5-month-old on his first airline flight, on Frontier Airlines to Orlando.
He did great. His seat did not.
Scraped handles, black oil on seat
"The plastic is cracked and broken, you can see just how much its been scraped up and damaged," Andrew Caudill said.
Agents told them if they checked the seats at the gate while boarding, there would be no baggage fee.
"We were told that if it was gate checked that it would be fine," he said.
But when they stepped off the flight, they were stunned. It was scraped up, and the nice fabric covering the $125 Graco travel system seat was covered in a sticky, black oily substance, he said.
"There was just oil that was all over it," Caudill said. "When we stepped off the plane in Orlando, by the time we got our car seat back it was banged up, scraped up, damaged, covered in oil and completely unusable."
He said the airport loaned them a seat until they could purchase a new one. They even had to put the seat in a large trash bag, to avoid getting the oil on their clothing or rental car.
How to protect yourself
It's really a question that affects every parent with a young child who flies. How do you bring along a car seat or a stroller, without the risk of it being damaged?
If you have ever checked baggage, you know that suitcases are often scraped and scuffed in the baggage hold down below. Wheels often break off.
Now imagine tossing a pristine new car seat, that your newborn rides in, down there with everyone's bags.
The website Trips with Tykes.com suggests you place the car seat in a large clear plastic bag, to protect it from dirt and oil down below.
You can also pack it in a canvas duffel bag, but you run the risk of being charged a $50 checked bag fee at that point.
Amazon sells several reusable car seat gate check bags for $15 - $25 that will not trigger any checked bag fees.
As for strollers, the simplest thing may be to purchase a new $40 stroller when you arrive at your destination (you can't do that with a car seat, because rental car agencies won't allow you to rent a car with no child seat, if you have a baby with you).
Placing a seat in a plastic bag may be a good idea, because most airlines state they are not liable for damage in the fine print on their websites.
"They rejected our claim," Caudill said, "because they said under our terms of service, this is not covered."
After we contacted Frontier, however, they agreed to reimburse the Caudills for a new seat, due to the oil that ruined it.
You may not be as lucky, so consider covering up your child's seat or stroller, so you don't waste your money.
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